Cricket Has Not Arrived
What Imran Khan has said about holding the PSL final in Lahore rings true. Instead of going after him, every Pakistani must search his soul and decide if cricket is being really served.
The Pakistan Super League has been in the news for all possible reasons. The event which primarily took place in the UAE concluded in Lahore amid a lot of controversy. Some believed that organizing the event would strengthen the cricket structure of Pakistan while others were less optimistic and said it would not in any way work towards preventing the decline of cricket in the country. Imran Khan, who has been quite vocal against the current government, lashed out at the decision of holding the final in Lahore amid security threats. He was of the view that the final in Lahore would debilitate the cause of cricket instead of invigorating it.
The Pakistan Cricket Board was going gaga about holding the PSL final as if it was sure that this would create a revival of international cricket in Pakistan. Most of the foreign players, including Kevin Pietersen, Tymal Mills, Luke Wright, Nathan McCullum and Rilee Rossouw, showed concern over the decision and refused to play in Pakistan. They were worried about their security. To fill the gap created by the foreign players who pulled out of the final, the PCB had in store other foreign players who were barely known in international cricket. These players were hired on ad hoc basis and were paid handsomely just for a single match.
This PCB’s handling of the whole affair drew criticism from many former Test cricketers such as Javed Miandad, Mohsin Khan and Abdul Qadir who were of the opinion that holding the final in this way would ruin the very objective of the PSL. In his befitting reply to a question asked off the record by a journalist, Imran Khan called the hired players Phateechar (low-grade).
His statement provoked a storm as both his political opponents and cricket lovers chastised him for the criticism. However, his statement did hold some water.
The question is that what has the PCB achieved by holding a match in a curfew like situation where presumably the deployed security personnel outnumbered the crowd that stormed into the Gaddafi Stadium to watch the final. According to the Punjab Home Department, a five-tier security plan comprising the Pakistan Army, Rangers, Punjab Police, the Punjab Constabulary, Dolphin Force, Police Response Unit and Elite Force was deployed for the event. It was reported that the nearby shops, wedding halls and educational institutions were forced to shut down for many days prior to the final.
Under such circumstances, Imran Khan was right when he said that in such tight security a cricket final could even be held in such war-torn countries like Iraq and Syria. Apparently, the exercise of holding the final in Lahore was meant to garner political mileage for the government which was under pressure due to the Panama Leaks court proceedings. It is hard to comprehend otherwise how a positive image of Pakistan could have been portrayed by conducting a club level match under the highest possible security.
This was not the first time that foreign players came to Pakistan since the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore in 2009. The Zimbabwe cricket team toured Pakistan in 2015 to play three One Day Internationals and two T20 Internationals. Similar high profile security was given to the Zimbabwe team which was the weakest team among all the test playing nations. The government had high hopes that the tour would resume international cricket in Pakistan but its hopes proved futile as not a single international cricket match has been played in Lahore or in any other Pakistani city since then. This shows that the strategy of attracting international player to Pakistan by merely providing state-level security was quite an eye-wash. Instead, the PCB could have worked on a well-planned policy to promote cricket in Pakistan.
The “success” of the PSL final is evident from the foreign players who were part of the playing eleven of both the Quetta Gladiators and Peshawar Zalmi. In place of T20 specialists such as Kevin Pietersen, Luke Wright and Mills who left their Quetta Gladiators team in the lurch, some fill-in players were called up. The unfamiliar names were those of Anamul Haque (Bangladesh), Sean Ervine and Elton Chigumbura (Zimbabwe), Morne Van Wik ( South Africa) and Rayad Emerit (West Indies). All these fall in the second or third category in international cricket. The same was witnessed for the Peshawar Zalmi side where, except Darren Sammy and Marlon Samuels, no other foreign player was a big T20 International name. Such a selection sadly reflects how desperate the PCB was in holding the PSL final in Lahore.
In Pakistan, cricket cannot be revived unless the underlying reasons of its suspension are identified and dealt with. The 2009 attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team proved fatal to cricket in Pakistan. Who was behind the attack still remains a mystery. After the incident, the ICC banned international cricket in Pakistan due to the perilous security situation. But even then, nothing has changed. The government must certainly shore up its efforts to revive international cricket in the country. Unfortunately, terrorist activities are on the rise again in Pakistan. This is sad because no matter what you offer to foreign players, no one will risk his life just for a cricket match.
What Imran Khan has said about the foreign players and holding the PSL final in Lahore rings true. The event has certainly has not served cricket. To the contrary, it has highlighted the grim security picture in Pakistan. It has also brought to the fore a fear that cricket can only be played in Pakistan if security is guaranteed by the Pakistan Army. Does this mean that whenever an international cricketing event or, for that matter, any other sports event is to be held in Pakistan, unless a curfew-like situation is not created around the venue and the army does not provide an impregnable barricade, there will be no event?
If anything, the PSL final will have devastating implications for sports in Pakistan. If the government is sincere about reviving cricket or any other sport in Pakistan, the solution has to be homegrown and not a ‘me-too’ effort like the PSL. What the government needs to work on is to improve the overall security situation. Events like the PSL are only commercial ventures for franchises who just bask in the glory and leave the PCB to its own devices.
The writer is a member of the staff.